Who will save us?

Spoiler: It won’t be the bell.

Sometimes, everything seems to be on fire. Literally, as with the fires in Australia, Brazil and California, but also figuratively, with the global pandemic, climate change and violent conflicts everywhere. Who, or what, will save us from all of this?

Option 1: Technology

The idea is simple: With future technology, we may be able to maintain our first-world lifestyle, expand it even, while avoiding the long list of negative externalities this lifestyle so far causes.

To a certain degree this is definitely true, particularly when it comes to energy generation and resource extraction. Unfortunately, technology also exponentially increases our destructive potential, for example. through weapons of war.

The principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) may have saved us during the cold war, but it may not do so in the future – especially in the realm of cyber warfare. Ultimately, technology does hold a lot of potential. But this potential goes in every direction, and so it doesn’t hold up as a savior to count on.

Option 2: Economics

Good luck with that informed purchasing decision.

The core claim of capitalism is that if we leave the economy alone, everything will sort itself out. People will only buy what they believe in, so only good products and companies survive while the bad ones disappear. This is 100% true.

But this does not mean that it can save us from the challenges of our time. While growth and wealth creation are powerful factors in preventing conflicts and increasing well-being, the question is: How do we define “good”?

To most of us, “good” means convenient, without any regard for negative externalities that do not affect us with absolute immediacy – also because there is simply no time to exhaustively research everything we buy.

But even if we try to include social, ecological, and other factors in our purchasing decisions, the absence of regulations enforces moral hazard. I say ”enforce”, because higher standards are expensive, and if there is no requirement to abide by them then doing so anyway will diminish a market player’s competitive advantage and simply push that player out of the market. Especially if that player could simply lie instead.

So, regulations are needed for economics to be a viable solution, but for these rules to be effective they need to be established outside of economics itself – which means economics cannot be the answer.

Option 3: Politics

“Are we in agreement?”

Politics gets a bad rep these days, and for good reason. But it is important to remember that politics is what we do to find a consensus in society on every level. Politics decide who gets power, where resources are invested and which direction we develop in.

At its best, politics makes sure that all interest groups are represented according to their significance and ensures that no part of society gets marginalized.

So far, democracy has proven to be the best way to achieve this type of politics. The only caveat here is that a functioning democracy requires transparency, education, and a functioning social system.

Transparency ensures all the information is out there, through education people are empowered to make informed choices and with a functioning social system, people are less susceptible to situations where they need to vote against their best interest.

But since no democracy is perfect, it is always under threat of populism, tribalism and a ton of other “-isms”. Because of this, politics always seems to turn into a race to the bottom eventually.

Option 4: Personal growth

Nothing says personal growth like a mountain-top sunrise.

All these options have the same root: Individuals.

Individuals come up with technology, build the economy and establish social systems and hierarchies. What do these individuals want? What are their goals and agendas and where do they come from?

To be fair, there are two types of individuals in this world. One is the type who is mainly concerned with survival, every day. Whether in slums or conflict zones around the world, most of us belong in this category.

The second type includes individuals like me, who have no reason to worry about survival and are thus free to spend their days worrying about different things. It is this type of individuals who decide how things go in the world. It is this type, whose desires shape the direction of technology, society, and the economy.

What do we do with that power? I say, we have a duty to use this power to look at ourselves. Who really are we? What do we really want? Only by doing this can we see through the superficialities of power and wealth, overcome our default settings as sophisticated apes and continue to evolve with, rather than against, life in the universe.

It is not easy, of course. There are millions of possible answers to these questions. Personal growth means not simply copying one of these answers, but finding our own – and saving ourselves in doing so.

As a note to end on, this is why Micah and I are doing what we do. The retreats, the tiny house, the online course I’ve had in my head for a while now – they are our answers to these questions. It just so happens that they include the ambition to hopefully inspire others to find their answers, too.

35 thoughts on “Who will save us?

  1. Markus, the case for the four options you have presented is brilliant – to the point and captures the essence of each one. For me, I have always been a firm believer that one person can make an amazing difference. There are so many examples of this throughout history and today, and there will be in the future too. We tend to forget this. Then there are those amazing couples, groups, teams and so on.

    I chose a life of public service because I knew I would make the greatest difference not only within (improving an organisation) but also without (improving communities). Even with what I do now, much of the focus is on the public good, its well being (once called happiness) and ensuring there is a level playing field.

    The issue with technology is alway this: humankind has become a slave to it now instead of the other way around. In terms of economics, capitalism has been hijacked by those who only have a selfish interest at heart. I read an article the other day by some very big players in the corporate world saying it is time for capitalism to embrace social and community outcomes. Now with politics, it is always interesting. Good governance (transparency, consistency, due diligence, acting in good faith, removing conflicts of interest and so on) is required along with going back to the core principles of democracy so that effective decisions are made (efficiency will follow automatically). For one person to make a key difference, yes, self growth is required. But, let’s have self growth anyway, because the broader the mind the more open one is to making an informed and better, balanced (hopefully) decision.

    We don’t have to be the best, we just need to become better. Being the best has created a skewed view of the world. By becoming better, this acknowledges we are human, we are inherently good and we want a little bit of utopia for everybody without burning down the house 🤗 The one thing humankind must never, ever do, is give up!

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    1. Sean, thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      You address some very important things here. Because both is true: Every individual can make an amazing difference, but no individual does it alone. I suppose this is how every individual can make an amazing difference – by being part of these amazing couples, groups, teams etc; by acting within them as an individual, with individual agency, but nonetheless intrinsically connected to everyone else, whether consciously or subsonsciously.

      I also like how you directly associate public well-being with happiness. I guess it plays directly into the first point. That connection (you could call it “dependency”, but I think that doesn’t quite hit it) everyone has to everyone else means that the happiness of one is always interlinked with the happiness of others to some degree. This can quickly get confusing though, because while the happiness of everyone is interlinked, it can still only be achieved by taking responsibility for it individually. I would argue this also reaches into the level playing field. Laws are needed to support it, but ultimately it is the public sphere, made up of individuals, that either guarantees or undermines it.

      What always irks me about technology is that we could clearly do so much better. One of the reasons why we become slaves to technology, especially to social media, is because we choose to specifically design it to be this way – driven by the profit motive and presumably a severe disconnect in the public sphere. For economics it is similar, I think. Capitalism is built on the notion that everyone acting selfishly is in the public’s best interest. Without a functioning legal framework and (again) a public sphere made up of connected individuals, the inevitable outcome of this is extreme wealth of the few, paid for by the extreme poverty of the many. We can’t change this if we don’t want to change it, which is why it is ultimately based on the individual again. It can be good that corporations seem to move towards embracing social and community outcomes. It could mean that they increasingly take responsibility that befits their power. But it could also represent a shifting of these responsibilities from a state that ideally determines outcomes through a democratic process, to corporations that essentially work in a way reminiscient of absolutism.

      I love that the first thing you said about good governance is transparency. I couldn’t agree more, because I believe that this is the building block for all the other elements you mention, and it empowers the public sphere to make the informed decisions and lead the informed debates that allow for a robust democracy to exist. I guess this is a roundabout way of agreeing with everything you said there. But I just can’t help but always return to the individual as the element everything else is based on. No system we design can survive if the individuals that make it up don’t want it to run.

      The importance of your final point also can’t be overstated, and I agree 100%. A skewed view of the world, I would argue based on this culture of comparison that arose from this supposed need to be “the best” – a supposed need that is impossible to truly establish anyway, because the criteria are so arbitrary. Of course someone can be the fastest 100-m sprinter in the world, but how do you actually evaluate that achievement? Is it “better” or “worse” than the quadriplegic who learned to lift a finger after years of tireless work? Comparisons are useful to some degree, but they really don’t do as the basis of a worldview.

      But yes, I guess this is what it always comes down to, no? We are all human, we all at least see ourselves as good and have no evil intent, and the best thing we can probably do in any situation is to stop and remind ourselves that the people around us are human, too.

      Thank you again for your comment, Sean, I hope you don’t mind my long-winded reply. I salute you for your work and your thoughtfulness. Humankind can make it – if we allow ourselves to.

      PS: Micah asks: How is that pizza oven coming along?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello Markus, thank you for such a thoughtful reply. No, it’s not long winded at all. I enjoyed reading every word, and I mean that sincerely. I have always had an interest in the underlying law or principles regarding why we do what we do. Yes, we can make it 🤗

        I am writing a very lengthy post regarding colonialism and Mars contrasted against what is happening to Antartica at the moment (as we begin the journey to the stars). It deals with the very notion of the state and the corporation. I am sure it will make the reader’s eyes glaze over, but I can’t leave the subject alone without comment – history repeating itself is not what we need. Anyway, once I am happy with the end result, I will be post for all and sundry to see.

        You can let Micah know that the pizza over is constructed and hopefully we will be firing it up over the next week or so. It is gas fired, so it will take a bit of getting used too. There will be plenty of experiments re cooking other foods in there as well.

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        1. Thank you, Sean – I will be looking forward to reading your post! I agree that this is the time we need to be thinking about these matters because otherwise we will be blindsided by them. At first glance, it may seem as if an empire-driven colonialism of the past is very different from corporation-driven colonialism of the future, but I suspect this is not actually the case. In fact, I could see the potential concentration of significant players in a few powerful corporations, with even less scrutiny of the wider public than the empires of the past and their respective surrogate corporations, turning future colonialism into an even more extreme version of past colonialism. Another interesting question would concerng the subjugation of peoples. Would future colonialism pose less of a problem in that area, since there are no native Martians to subjugate (as far as we know), or more of a problem as humans sent to Mars may be even more at the mercy of the corporation that sent them?

          Again, really looking forward to reading your post and your perspectives on this! And glad to hear your pizza oven is making strides, I’m sure it will be exciting to test it out!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember being told that computers would connect the world in a way that we’d all learn more about each other and therefore care more about each other. Do better for all. Personal growth. Information was the key. Now, older and more cynical, I see corporate entities and governments nosing around in our lives, and things have gotten murky. I use my limited online influence for good, but realize not everyone does.

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    1. Yes, it is not easy. Ironic how social networks are one of the main perpetrators in our divisions these days. But it seems as if you are definitely taking responsibility for yourself and your actions. I salute you for that, because it is not easy – but it is also one of the most powerful things anyone can do.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very good points there. In my opinion, you are doing a great job on yourself and to support/protect the community. From reading your posts, you do care about the world and are willing to do something about it, and to me, it is enough to go to sleep with a smile on your faces. Keep up the great work you are doing!

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  4. Like Rebecca, I think that we can only control ourselves and be responsible for our own actions.
    Part of the ‘bigger’ problem is that in different parts of the world there are different ideas of what is the best way forward. A country that is ‘rich’ is going to see the future in a totally different way to a country that is ‘poor’. Even within the ‘rich’ or the ‘poor’ countries, there are different perceptions of the way ahead. My view (I’m 70) of the world is very different from my neighbour’s (they are in their 80’s) view of the world and REALLY different from my other neighbour who is in his 40’s. What’s that expression “We’re not singing from the same hymn sheet”.

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    1. True. And we would do good to recognize these differences, because I think there is a lot of value in them. Especially in the unique perspectives each of them offer. At the same time, though, which do you think outweighs the other: The different experiences we have had during our lifetimes, or our shared humanity?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I want to say ‘shared humanity’ but until the whole world population is on the same level playing field it would be difficult to imagine that happening. Also, that level playing field might only exist if different cultures don’t exist. Imagine a world where everyone was the same! Sorry! This all sounds very negative!

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        1. Haha, you make a good point though! And I don’t think it would do to simply close our eyes to the complexities of this. Perhaps we can learn to appreciate the diversity and see it as the very reflection of our shared humanity?

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          1. I look at the Earth and see so many different trees and flowers and so many different animals in many different land and seascapes; they don’t all live in perfect ‘harmony’ they do co-exist in acceptance of each other.

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  5. lol I’ve been meditating, doing retreats longer than you’ve been alive 🙂

    Also been living off grid in my tiny house … check it out under my sustainability category … don’t talk about it, DO IT ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your ideas here are very good, Markus. I too reflect on these things. I my opinion, the biggest problem is the ability of technology in the wrong hands to control people. I don’t know if you’ve ever read 1984 by George Orwell. If not you should do so, it explores some of these complex control issues. Of course, corporates control governments to a large extent as the world runs on money and power. There is no real freedoms for people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment! Yes, you are certainly right that technology, money and power do not mix very well these days. It is almost eery how Orwell was able to predict a lot of it. I do think that this is exactly where personal growth comes in, though. Because who ultimately controls technology or decides on how money and power is used? Individuals do. What we can do in this is to not buy into the game of power and money that is being played around the world and that expresses itself in the fear-based control, tribalism, the generalization of others, etc. Instead, we can focus on our growth, our awareness and our choices. That way we can not only create real freedom for ourselves, but also be an example for others who may wish to do the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is good advice, Markus/Micah. We can only control ourselves and our immediate environment. It is like that with helping others too. We can only do our small bit but if everyone does a small bit it makes a big difference. Have a lovely day.

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  7. Thought-provoking post; thanks!

    My own affinity for Stoicism falls neatly with your final point of looking inward and working on personal growth. I believe we can only control ourselves and our reaction to events, not the people involved or the events themselves. By living our best lives, we lead by example with the goal of eventually creating coalitions that change things for the better.

    I worry about that approach, though, because some issues – e.g. climate change – require more direct and immediate responses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! And I very much agree, especially on the larger issues you mention. But even with these issues, who decides what is being produced? Ultimately we do, by what we buy. Of course framing it this way is massively simplified. For example, government has a responsibility to enact the will of society, through laws and regulations, by ensuring transparency, etc. But I think being conscious about what we buy is exactly the type of control that you refer to. Just like I can’t control what others say to me, only how I react to it, I can’t control what companies produce, only if I buy into it. In a way, it doesn’t get more direct than that – and it also refers back to personal growth again, because personal growth is what empowers us to make these conscious choices to begin with.

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